Catching up with Al Hall, GW’s real big man

He smiles as he stands up to greet you-all six-foot-five-inches and 270 pounds of him. After shaking his hand, it’s easy to notice how his frame dominates the office, but not in an intimidating way.

By his sheer size, it’s hard to imagine he was the smallest child in his family. And by judging from his brisk walking pace, it’s nearly impossible to fathom that he’s 54 years old and still recovering from a rare kidney disease.

His name is Al Hall, the University Police Department’s Director of Auxiliary Services. His job entails various aspects of UPD scheduling, including overseeing transportation.

But to everyone who knows him, Hall is more than just a University employee. He’s a friend who loves to shoot the breeze and rarely speaks negatively about anyone.

“I don’t care if you’re black, white or whatever,” said Hall, who currently lives in Fort Washington, Md. with his wife, April. “It’s all about one’s character. I’ll look for the best in him, even if he looks for the worst in me.”

Just from speaking to him for a few minutes, it’s easy to see he’s a storyteller, and a dedicated father and husband. And, oh yeah-he used to be an exceptional athlete. His basketball talents took him from North Carolina, to New York and eventually overseas, where he excelled and had the time of his life.

With a smile on his face, he said he hasn’t thought much about these stories from his younger days as of late, but he talks in detail like they happened yesterday.

At Jones High School in Trenton, N.C. he played tight end for a two-time state championship football team. But his passion was basketball, where he excelled as a tenacious rebounder and scorer. As an undersized power forward (he said his playing weight was a trim 225), he didn’t receive any college scholarship offers.

St. John’s University was a school he dreamed of attending but admitted that he “was six-five and I knew they could get somebody who was six-nine to do what I did.” He graduated from Jones in June 1968, and that summer he moved to New York City, where he worked as a respiratory technician at Montefiore Hospital.

Humble beginnings

Family tradition spawned the flight, as Hardy and Thomas, Hall’s two older brothers, were already in New York, working and sending money home on a regular basis. “The Hall Boys,” as Hardy called them, were stuck together since day one. There were five of them all together, as Al was sandwiched between older John and the youngest, Charles, who eventually moved to the Big Apple.

The Hall boys were joined by four sisters: Velma, Lova Jean, Helen and Debra. Predictably, the house was always full of activity. And growing up, the brothers spent their free time practicing sports together.

“We had two (baskets) at our house,” Hardy said. “And on Sunday mornings there would be car loads of kids coming to play against us.”

Each brother excelled in athletics, but Al said Charles, the youngest boy of the family, had the most basketball talent.

Having such competitive brothers around helped them progress as athletes, but nothing made them stronger than the work they did at home. They were sons of sharecroppers. Their father, Hardy Hall Sr., and mother Sadie, owned 50 acres of tobacco and 100 acres of corn.

Al said neither he nor his brothers ever touched a weight growing up. They worked for their father, helping tend the crops, and to that, they credit his toughness.

In the 1960s, the South was a racially charged place, but Al said he enjoyed his childhood.

“When you grow up in a place you learn how to survive,” he said. “I was always a happy little boy. I had my brothers to play with, and my sisters to terrorize.”

Big Apple leads to bigger things

When Al joined Hardy and Thomas to work in New York in 1968, they began playing ball in pick-up games and various leagues throughout the city.

It was the late 1960s and early 70s – the city was chock full of great players. Al said he used to play at legendary Rucker Park, where Julius Erving routinely put on a show for spectators.

“Dr. J had to stop playing there,” Al said. “All the kids used to climb the fences to watch and it got too dangerous.”

Eventually, Al’s play earned him some attention in the city. Hardy remembers one particular game.

“I saw him put up 28 points and 28 rebounds,” he said. “Everybody insisted you must come see him play.”

“A guy walked up to me and said, ‘You should be in school somewhere,'” Al said. The man was Ralph Arietta, the basketball coach at Westchester Community College.

In 1971, he began a stint at the two-year school in Valhalla, N.Y., where he was a dominant player. Finally, he got a shot at playing four-year college ball in 1973, when he matriculated to Division II Davis and Elkins College, a small school in West Virginia.

At Davis and Elkins, Hall did not disappoint, averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds in two seasons for the Senators. While at college he met his girlfriend April, who he eventually married a few years later.

However, Al put his nuptials on hold for a while for a chance to play pro ball. After graduating from Davis and Elkins in 1975, Al was offered a contract by Stade Francais, a team that played in Switzerland.

When he arrived in Europe, he said he had the time of his life. The owner of the team also owned a restaurant, where Al received all of his meals for free.

“I remember walking into the (restaurant),” he said. “I had a big afro and everyone must have turned around and said, ‘Who the hell is this guy?'”

Al said he learned French, spending three hours each morning at a language school. At first, he only knew “jeter le ballon” (shoot the ball), but after weeks of training, he got the hang of the language.

Back on the court, Al continued to have success. He likes to show various newspaper clippings of his playing days in Europe. One features a picture of his trademark ‘fro’ and the other showcases the team’s first win during his first season, a game in which he scored 44 points.

But like most good things, his basketball career eventually ended. After two seasons in Europe, he figured it was time to move back to the states with April, a native of the D.C. area.

Back in the States

Al began working for the GW security department in 1976, and married April in 1977. Their only son, Akeem, was born in 1978. Al said he currently lives in New York City, where he is trying to break into the music business.

Throughout the late 1970s, basketball never left the Hall family. Al continued to play pick-up games in the District. It was at this time he began to follow GW basketball, where in the 1980s, he met the likes of GW stars Mike Brown, and the late Yinka Dare, who each made the NBA.

By then, the eight Hall children were all grown men and women. They all had their own unique accomplishments.

Hardy, the oldest, retired this year at 62 after working as a computer technician in New York. Thomas, the second oldest, also worked in hospitals, but died in 1989 during a fire in his apartment.

“He was my biggest fan,” Al said. “You used to hear him in the gym. Before every game he’d yell, ‘Big Al, lets hit the boards.'”

After Thomas is Velma, who is still the Director of Nursing at Howard University. Next is Lova Jean, who currently works for the federal government. Brother John is now retired, but Al said he was the first African American wildlife officer in North Carolina.

Al is the next sibling, then Helen, who is an office manager in D.C. The youngest, Charles, is an airline mechanic in New York.

Being successful in business made it easier to decide it was time to give a gift to their parents, who had never owned their own home.

The brothers and sisters collectively helped finance the construction of a new home on two acres of land in North Carolina. Hardy Sr. died in 1984, but not before he moved into his new house. His mother died in 1992. The project was “the lighlight of my life,” Al said.

Surviving tough times

After staying active and healthy throughout the 1980s, Al Hall experienced a setback. In 1990, after being hired to his current position as Auxiliary Services Manager at GW, Hall was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a kidney disease that put him on daily dialysis treatments.

Coincidentally, former NBA player Alonzo Mourning has the disorder. Hall waited for a transplant for 13 years and eventually found a match: his wife, April.

“I’m so lucky,” he said. “It’s so rare for a spouse to find a match.”

After the transplant surgery in spring 2003, he missed six weeks of work. It was worth it, he said, because he now feels much better.

He has not played basketball in years but is beginning to lift weights again. He still follows roundball, but at 54, he doesn’t think a comeback is in his future.

“As long as I’m not at a (basketball) game I don’t miss it,” Hall said.

Maybe one day, Hall will pick up a basketball again. But if he doesn’t, stop by the UPD headquarters, and he’ll gladly tell you about the days when he did.

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